A World By Itself, Edited by Jonathan Clark

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The Independent Culture

"This volume cannot be a universal compendium," says Clark in the introduction to this massive history of the British Isles. "It can, however, give some sense of why historians find history important."

In consequence, the contributors take a thematic approach to their periods, tackling economics, religion and politics successively. This may help in explaining the tides of history but it does not sweep up the general reader, especially since the style tends to be rather abstract.

The most successful section is on the 20th century. According to Robert Skedelsky, the biggest failure of the First World War was an "inability to impose political control over the military... Britain failed to preserve its human capital." Could any verdict be more damning?